Flipping Flies

In his latest blog post John Merwin asks why fly fishing media increasingly touts style over substance. Perhaps an equally relevant question is why we’re so willing to consume the pablum while true expertise drifts downstream and away from us.
“A great deal of what passes for flyfishing media these days seems more related to a happy-go-lucky angling lifestyle than to genuine technical progress. It’s become a lot easier to gaze at one’s navel while pondering the philosophical implications of sport than to pick the right fly pattern.” On FieldandStream.com.

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  • Phil Monahan

    While it is true that there has been an increase in the amount of the “lifestyle” stuff that John complains about, there are still plenty of guys writing about hardcore angling techniques, cutting edge fly patterns, and even entomology.
    I think our best technical-fishing author is Ed Engle, who has written dozens of articles in recent years to help anglers solve tough on-the-water problems. Over the past 20 years, the Pacific Northwest quartet of Hughes, Hafele, Leeson, and Schollmeyer have done more to teach tiers about vise work and mimicry than anyone, and they continue to produce. Hafele, Ted Fauceglia, and now Jason Neuswanger’s Trout Nut Web site have done much to promote the study of entomology (and have corrected much of their predecessor’s misinformation).
    The list goes on: Neale Streeks writes one or two great how-to articles a year, Pat Dorsey’s work is excellent, Scott Sanchez continues to push the boundaries of tying, Dave Klausmeyer’s step-by-step photography makes complex patterns available to many more tiers, and Ralph Cutter’s underwater video of insects has changed the way we think about subsurface fishing.
    So, I would argue that all this lifestyle stuff is not replacing “true expertise”; the good how-to stuff is still there if you know where to find it.

  • Andrew Steketee

    “Lifestyle” content is a backlash to years and years of “how to,” which has left us, frankly, blind.
    The idea that we need more new age Ernie Schwieberts and Gary Borgers blasting out 500-page hard bound compendiums to reinvigorate the sport’s already way too technical party planks is absurd.
    What we need on the manufacturing end are salient brands, simple and compelling marketing, easy to use product, and instruction that is simple and inclusive, not idiosyncratic and insular.
    On the content end we need product that fly fishers and non-fly fishers alike are willing to engage. How does that happen? Quality, perspective, and, oh yeah, technology.

  • JPS

    Some parts of this piece are to be commended. Yes, too often classic flies represent some anglers’ only solutions, or sole knowledge of entomology. And I suppose one could say that because of magazines (or “e-zines”) like This Is Fly who emphasize the alternative culture, so to speak, that often accompanies contemporary fly fishing, the sport is diluted by some people who have become so obsessed with the fact that they fish that they’ve forgotten how to do so.
    On the other hand, as a sport like this evolves, there must be some “pondering [of] the philosophical implications.” Fly fishing, as many of us would and should agree, can be a somewhat spiritual experience, and should also be intertwined inextricably with conservation and with fine art.
    It should not be a surprise that some people don’t approach fly angling with quite the right attitude. One should let them be, and focus one’s own knowledge, expertise, and learning process. Additionally—I would be careful, in a piece such as this, when separating the young anglers from the old—a rampant, unfounded, and unpleasant tendency in fly fishing is to regard it as a sport exclusively for older generations. The age-related elitism in fly fishing should not be fueled.

  • Fred Rickson

    I think much of the problem is us. Now, maybe 90% of those fishing the Madison in Montana are happy to watch a bobber. A friend will not go back to the Grand Ronde in Washington-Oregon because 90% of the folks stand on the same rock for hours and fling a bobber and lead weight rather than swinging a dry fly for steelhead. Oregon had to put in special rules for the fly fishing section of the North Umpqua for the same reason as the Ronde.
    I suspect that most of the fly fishermen today know more about the number of fish they caught rather than the fly pattern or other vicissitudes encountered during a days fishing. Pogo was correct.

  • tom

    first i wanted to catch a fish, then i wanted to catch lots of fish, then i wanted to catch a big fish, then i wanted to catch a lot of big fish, then i wanted to catch a fish. all of us in the fishing world are at some point on the continium. it shouldn’t be a debate about “lifestyle” fishermen or “classic” fishermen. it should be a celebration of outdoors and the ability to fish in some really cool places.

  • Bob

    Fishing is about having fun. Not much else. I guess there are valid opinions about fishery management but most of that is controlled by the biologists who get paid to keep the fisheries in shape. It is good to make it public that people will do well to be careful not to harm fish they don’t plan on eating. But the how, where and with what equipment takes a backseat to whether it is a day of fun.

  • Anthony

    As others have stated above – there is an arc that many of us fly anglers travel. As we progress along this continuum, we our informed by our experiences and our outlook may change.
    At one time I gobbled up “how-to” articles and articles about the latest fly or latest material, but I’ve personally moved past that. This is not a value-judgment about others but a statement about where I am personally.
    After about 5 years or so of reading the more traditional fly-fishing magazines I realized that I’d seen it all before. It was like deja vu. The same “how-to” articles dusted off and dressed up to look new. If I were new to the sport these articles would be new to me and I’d be loving them. But…after a while you get “sequel-fatigue”. I probably don’t need to read about, pheasant-tails, and gold-ribbed hare’s ears again (even if they do have a brass bead – or a tungsten bead – or synthetic pheasant-tail or a flash-back….and on and on ad infinitum).
    This is not intended as a knock on technical fly-fishing or technical fly-fishing writing, but I think many of us get to a point where we are saturated and can’t take anymore. There are always others to take our place.
    So I’ve turned to other new-media looking for something different. Some I like, some I don’t. But I guess I’m ready for some introspection and “navel-gazing”. I’m sorry if that is somehow not being a good fly fisher. Different strokes for different folks.

  • Eric

    That article is nothing but crap spilling off of the ivory tower. Some of these “great fly fisherman” need to learn to take themselves less seriously.

  • Scott

    Interesting article. Andrew, above, makes a fair point. Readers have rejected the over complicated world of fly fishing. Detailed entomology articles will do that. On the other hand, I can sense a hint of elitism with the “I already knew that” attitude showing. We can never stop learning, much of what we learn is practical, but a well-constructed how-to story will always be the place to share valuable knowledge. How-to is also the vital ingredient for selling magazines.

  • robert morselli

    Merwin’s certainly hit a nerve. As a fellow writer, all I can say is: Nice job, John! I can think of no greater compliment than all of the bang & clatter this piece has generated.
    To the few of you who have taken varying degrees of offence to the piece: remember that we’re all entitled to our views. So my suggestion is to just chill, push away that keyboard and go tie a fly or two, or better yet, go spend some time on the water, don’t overthink things (or go right ahead and do so if that’s your thing) and have some fun already.

  • Andrew McKenna

    My eight year old son caught a fish this summer on a fly he tied himself. He is not aware of the “lifestyle” elements, nor is he overly concerned with technical perfection…he just loves to fish. I think his attitude helped my attitude and stopped me from over-thinking all of this. Time spent more than knee-deep in a river, with no distraction, is its own reward. Improving the ability to fool a fish is a bonus. We treat each trip to the water as a learning experience and I cannot recall a day when we did not have an adventure that has defined flyfishing beyond the technical and beyond the gadgets for him. He sees it as something more than a sport, but he also knows he can only cast one rod at a time.